Parents of 4 at Bo Peep allege abuse, seek damages in newly unsealed suit Preschool, owners, 2 ex-teachers named

August 09, 1991|By Sheridan Lyons

The parents of four former preschoolers at the Bo Peep Day Nursery in Bel Air want multimillion-dollar damages from the business, its owner and two former teachers, citing evidence of physical and sexual abuse of their children that led to the center losing its license in 1989.

The civil lawsuit, filed last summer but sealed at the request of the parents' lawyers, was ordered reopened Wednesday by Harford County Circuit Judge William O. Carr.

The lawsuit includes 18 allegations ranging from negligence to assault, breach of contract, emotional distress, failure to report abuse, improper training of staff and contempt of a 1987 court order barring men from the premises.

An amended version of the lawsuit filed last September includes the first public allegations that children at Bo Peep had been photographed or videotaped while undressed.

Named as defendants are owner Deborah S. Cassilly, her husband, Patrick, and teacher Rita Blevins, all of Bel Air, who have been accused -- and who have repeatedly denied -- in testimony at various hearings that they physically and sexually abused the children.

Also being sued by the children and their parents is former teacher Martha Scarborough of Fallston, who was previously described at the hearings as having been overheard talking about calling the police.

The group of parents now alleges that she participated in photographing children, and that she sent or took children to the unlicensed, third-floor living quarters of the Cassillys to be disciplined. The parents claim that this resulted in a sexual assault by Mr. Cassilly while his wife was present.

L Ms. Scarborough could not be located for comment last night.

However, the attorneys for Bo Peep and its employees -- and a vocal group of parents who are supporters of Ms. Cassilly and Bo Peep -- have consistently denied any wrongdoing there, suggesting instead that the children who showed physical injuries were assaulted at home and that others had been encouraged to tell false stories.

No criminal charges were ever filed and the investigation is currently inactive, according to a spokesman for the Baltimore County state's attorney's office, which took over the investigation because Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly is a cousin and close friend of Patrick Cassilly.

The civil suit was unsealed in response to a petition from The Baltimore Sun Co.,

The first allegations surfaced in the spring of 1987, and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suspended Bo Peep's license and sought to order it closed that summer.

But the center remained open until November 1989, when the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the state, based upon a hearing officer's finding that at least eight children, mostly girls aged 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 , had been physically and sexually abused at Bo Peep.

In testimony in court and at the licensing hearings, parents and therapists recounted nightmares, drawings, behavioral changes and fears that ranged from silly to chilling, while two pediatricians described anal and genital injuries of some of the children.

While a defendant in a criminal case must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil case can turn upon which side presents the most believable evidence.

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